Destigmatizing Dementia

Destigmatizing Dementia | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Dementia is a broad term used to describe a decline in mental ability. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is a form of dementia. It is characterized by mild memory loss that progresses over time.

Dementia by the Numbers

25,000 new cases of dementia are diagnosed every year. Currently, there are an estimated 564,000 Canadians living with dementia and that number is expected to rise to as many as 937,000 within the next 15 years. Out of the current 564,000 individuals with dementia, 16,000 are over the age of 65, and 65% of those diagnosed are women.

Risk Factors

You are at a greater risk of developing dementia if there is or has been a history of it in your family. Studies have also suggested that certain lifestyles play a factor in being diagnosed with dementia. For example, if you are a smoker, your risk of developing dementia increased by as much as 45%. Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and lack of physical activity.

In order to prevent dementia as well as maintain and improve your overall brain health, family physician Dr. Ali Ghahary urges patients to make some crucial (and easily modifiable) lifestyle changes – such as keeping physically active, avoid smoking and alcohol consumption, keep your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight levels at healthy ranges, consume a well-balanced and healthy diet, reduce your stress and anxiety levels, and keep challenging your brain by doing things you’ve never done before – for example, learn a new language, take a course, or play a new game. It’s also recommended that you wear protective gear (such a helmets) when playing sports to avoid brain injuries.

The Stigma

Many individuals diagnosed with dementia often say they feel as though they’re treated differently by society. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to attach labels to the illness; this is due in part to the stereotypes and misinformation that still surrounds the disease. Sadly, these stigmas can hurt those suffering from dementia and discourage them from speaking out to others and getting the proper help they need.

There are certain steps that those with dementia can do to help decrease the stigma that surrounds it. The most important thing is to not be ashamed to talk about it. By talking about it, you lessen the fear and help give people a better understanding of what it is you’re dealing with. For those with friends or loved ones diagnosed with dementia, don’t use phrases like “they’ve lost their mind.” Instead, treat those with dementia with the same level of respect and dignity that you would treat other human beings – as well as how you would expect others to treat you.

As part of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia has launched the website There you can find information directly from individuals living with dementia, test your knowledge on dementia, as well as find resources in your community.